Once upon a time, there was a New Age conference center in Greenville, NH, called Another Place Farm.
Jimi Two Feathers, who was living at Another Place, had been putting on dances and connecting with several others, particularly Dance Friday in Watertown, MA. Paul Freundlich, who had helped start the “free dance” Dance Haven in New Haven, was on the APF Board and had visited Dance Free in Cambridge and Dance Spree in Northampton. Paul proposed to Jimi that they create a week-long summer camp built around a growing movement of local “free-style,” cooperatively run, DJ’d dances.
There would be workshops and community, and it would be called “Dance New England.”
August 15-21, 1980, it happened: a few dozen intrepid souls arrived at Another Place. Sue-Ellen Schmidt taught contact improv and Chris Collins taught Tai Chi. We ate vegetarian and fish dinners, and swam in a local quarry. On the last Wednesday, we carpooled into Boston for a field trip to Dance Free.
This highly successful event was confirmation that we had something special worth repeating. However, extending the connections between the tribal centers would take some coordination.
A spontaneous, but serious, meeting that week inspired a working group representing the local dances.
Paul Freundlich and Margaret Flinter from Dance Haven, along with Bill McAvinney and Jonathan Smith from Dance Friday, volunteered to create camp for next the summer. Jimi Two-Feathers, as a roving at-large ambassador, volunteered to promote new dances, taught and organized “tape-making” skills, exchanged equipment, and helped with production.
Margaret immediately offered to organize a fall weekend in New Haven. It featured contact improv with Robin Feld and a big, evening Dance Haven. A hurricane blew out the power at Paul and Margaret’s house where more than a dozen stayed, but we had more than enough energy of our own.
People who had traveled from Boston, New York, and Western Mass said, “This is magical! Let’s do it again.” Dance Friday in Boston organized a dance weekend for February 1981, and preparation for an expanded summer camp began.
1981-1984: Another Place Farm and More DNE Weekends
The word was out. Attendance doubled with leadership transferred to the Rep group and excitement generated by the first DNE camp and weekends.
We reveled in African dance and drumming, authentic movement, singing “Dumela” in greeting, and more. Live concerts were held on the lawn; rolling on a huge Earth ball; childcare; Neil Cowan’s Punch and Judy show; a Drum Council around a bonfire; Medicine Story led Native American sweat lodge ceremonies.
We added a winter New York weekend that was produced by a new dance — Barefoot Boogie — and over the next three years our summer camp grew larger. Danny Trenner, an improv and dance teacher, was coaxed to walk in by hitchhiker Maji, who only spoke in rhyme. Contact teacher Robin Feld returned with her husband Paul McCandless of the innovative jazz group Oregon, and he graced us with his oboe.
Do’a performed a live percussion concert. We drummed around a huge bonfire late into the night, inspired by Eno Washington and Larry Ferell who taught African Dance classes in the back field. Jimi drove his school bus full of singing dancers to the Greenville Town Hall for classes. “Family Groups” were created as small chore groups to build more intimate social contact within the big camp. Committees to support programs and operations were developed and flourished.
1985-86: Moved to Farm and Wilderness Camp
Another Place Farm was strained at over 200 participants. We outgrew the physical capacities of our first DNE home.
At our farewell weekend at the Farm in June of ’85, Louise Cloutier sang “Amazing Grace”; Mareba invoked our better angels; and Steve Robins mimed the Another Place bathroom, snaking through the crowd to brush teeth, spitting out the window, finally rotating into the shower to speedily soap, lather, and rinse — and history was made.
We found a new home at Farm and Wilderness Camp in Vermont. We set up our electronic music in the contra-dance barn, and celebrated skinny dipping again.
Here we had outdoor pit toilets called KYBOS with no walls (to the horror of some city folk), but there were more showers than at Another Place Farm. The Young People’s Program started in earnest. Classes expanded, adding Stan Strickland’s sax and authentic movement with Susan Schell. The talents of the community were displayed in an annual Festival of performances, with Neil Cowan as the ringmaster.
We thrived in spite of camping in cold and rain. Dance Friday, Dance Haven, and NYC Barefoot Boogie hosted weekends over the year, and local dances were strong. DNE leaders formed a non-profit 501c-7 organization to create our annual Camp and support local dance communities.
Our drumming during silent Quaker Meeting and loud electronic music blasted us out of the peace of Farm and Wilderness. Camp Lenox, in Lenox, MA, became our home for one year.
We suffered through an epidemic of Shigella, which led to better hygiene and mandatory hand washing. Our non-professional dance camp attracted legendary dance teachers — like Richard Bull and Cynthia Novak — enjoying our instinctive and intuitive feel for dance. Stan Strickland’s pick-up band gave a memorable evening dance concert. Here we first discussed buying a home.
We discovered Samantha Smith Camp in Poland Springs, Maine, where we grew even larger. DNE was the social center of our universe.
Some Boston dancer-members had created EarthDance, a conference center for improvisational dance. Other DNE members lived in collective, cooperative houses throughout New England. Some got married, children were born, and DNE Camp became an amazing place to bring kids.
After passing through Maine Teen Camp and Camp Mataponi, we returned to Samantha Smith Camp (renamed Camp Omni) in 1989. Bill McCarthy was hired as our first staff Camp Director.
Dance New England had become a strong cooperative organization led by Representatives from each dance who planned the annual camp. Numerous people volunteered again and again to ensure we continued.
On our ten-year anniversary, Margaret Flinter and Paul Freundlich proposed another level of leadership, which evolved into a Council of Elders for those who had been Reps. In community, the knowledge that your contribution is valued is an important benefit.
New teachers came to camp: Alisa Starkweather and Sylvia Brailer (breathwork), Jashanna Kippert played with passion, and Serpentessa with snakes.
Arriving at Mataponi for what would be a three-year stay, we were weary of moving to new places.
DNE was dreaming of a long-term home. It was as much a process as a specific plan, an intention to have a DNE future together. We did not know if that would look like a village or a conference site; a retirement community or a school; a summer camp, weekend retreat, or all of the above. We just wanted our home to be in our hands. To design, to struggle with priorities, to dance together.
That summer we redefined what it meant to be a Member of DNE.
We restructured our governance process and created a Leadership Council. Fifteen council members took on the long-term visioning and strategic responsibilities of the Elders, as well as the policy-making function of the Reps. We created a separate Camp Coordinating Group to manage operational issues. That formulation served us well for several years, before we revised into a Board of Directors and staff.
The Camp Director position was handed off to Keith Winston. Carolyn Fuller brilliantly configured our data processing, allowing for a comprehensive DNE Directory. For several years, Paul Freundlich produced a DNE newsletter.
2000-2008: Back Again at Omni
In 2000, we moved back to Omni Camp. It felt great to be home, even if the move placed restrictions on the length of Camp. We settled into Omni for the next eight years, making some camp improvements in coordination with the camp owners.
Satisfaction with Omni made the need to find a permanent home far less urgent. With Camp settled in for the short term, we were able to focus on ways to strengthen and enjoy community. A community store evolved as a destination for trying on clothes and hanging out. Samantha Armer became our long-time Registrar in 2000.
In 2004, we celebrated our 25th anniversary at Omni.
When Camp Omni was up for sale in 2008 DNE tried to buy the camp, but lost out to a higher bid. The new owners didn’t want to rent the camp to us, and so we sadly became nomads again, leaving behind the best dance floor in the world, overlooking a private lake.
2009-2017: Mostly Merry at Robin Hood
Camp Robin Hood in Freedom, NH, became our new home where we grew even larger, swelling to 550 campers. Though the town was named Freedom, we were hemmed in a bit and we wore swimsuits for the eight years we stayed.
The facilities allowed us to grow in our expression: we created the Art Space, and had room for bodyworkers to enjoy a large cabin that was turned into tiny studios for them to work in. The kitchen enhanced our sustenance by allowing us to increase our numbers while at the same time improving the intricacies of our meals.
The teens’ tradition of late-night Cuban-style Salsa Rueda, which Danny Trenner had begun at Omni, was able to expand. Every evening they turned a section of the Dining Hall into a dance club for teens and young adults, where they could master their own dance.
Our amazing community remained true to its values through so many homes. In spite of the lengthy consensus approach to decision-making, we’ve held on to the virtue of insisting on fairness, respecting minority positions. Dance New England became a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2014.
Though there were many good times at Robin Hood, our values did not always mesh well with that of the owners or with the structures there; ultimately, as a community, we came to a decision to find our new home. Once again the Camp Search Committee was put to work to renew our efforts to find a permanent home
2017-2020: Homeplace Sweet Home
A group of 42 DNE members, plus the HeARTbeat collective’s Jason Cohen — inspired by Davio Danielson and Blake Holden — raised $1.3 million as investment, through donations and loans, and bought Camp Timber Trails in Tolland, MA, to become our Homeplace.
The playful work and sweat-filled work-weekends began anew with floors to be sanded, land to be stewarded, and a thousand other things that keep Dance Camp and DNE a living, breathing presence in our lives.
For our 40th “ruby” anniversary we’ve settled into a gem of a place to call home for the long haul. DNE has been able to buy a major share in the Camp Timber Trails LLC. For several years, Lisa Kennedy served as President, and a majority of the Managing Board are DNE members.
Challenges in a time of pandemics and recession may keep us up nights, but so will our dancing.
Virtuality stretches us all.